Thursday, September 19, 2013

a "promising syllabus" for Computer Science

This semester, I am teaching a Human-Computer Interaction course (with topics outlined in the 2008 ACM/IEEE Computer Science Curriculum) and using "Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction" (3rd Edition, 2011) as the text. I use the local version of moodle to manage the course.

Last month, +Tim Maciag told me about Ken Bain's book entitled "What the Best College Teachers Do".   I eagerly read it in preparation for the current semester, and it has provided a lot of food for thought.  I learned that the best teachers try to create a "natural critical learning environment".  I am buoyed by Bain's comments that good teaching can be learned and I am ready to take on this "serious and important intellectual and creative work."

Many years ago, I did a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test and found that I was an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) - and the same still holds. This is not the dominant type amongst computer scientists. Looking at Capretz's report on "Personality types in software engineering" (published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies in 2002), ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) is most prevalent. What this means is that I may often have a different perspective from that of my colleagues. As I get older, I am more apt to embrace this difference. In Bain's notion of the "promising syllabus", I see a new opportunity to express my vision of a computer science course that is learner-centered.

There are three parts to the "promising syllabus" (so-named because it makes promises to the students):
  1. promises or opportunities for students taking the class
  2. what students would do to realize those promises
  3. how instructor and students would "understand the nature and progress of learning"
I was most sure about the first part, the promises and opportunities, as I used a quote from J. C. R. Licklider's Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960) that had inspired me.  I wrote to students that "we are now living in those most creative and exciting years in the history of mankind and this class will help you to engage in them fully."  In the promises, I touched on all six categories of L. Dee Fink's categories of significant learning: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn.

As I moved onto the second part, what students would do to realize those promises, I was less certain but still enthusiastic. I gave a tentative schedule of readings in the text and broadly how they related to the topics in the curriculum. I am using quizzes in moodle to give students some direction in their preparation and some automated feedback. Aside from preparing (by keeping up with the readings), I've also indicated participating (including involvement in design of assignment rubrics and exam questions), writing (blog posts), and designing (the focus of the course project).

Writing the third and final part, understanding the nature and progress of learning, was even more difficult. I wrote about formative and summative evaluation - of interfaces and of students' learning and thinking in the class. I included, from Bain, a submission at the end of the semester where students could reflect upon the nature and progress of their own learning and thinking and outline their areas of strength and weakness when it comes to the material. I am least certain about that element, but time will tell!

This syllabus feels right to me. I am hopeful that my students and I will use it as the foundation for a great semester.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck Daryl - Sounds like an exciting adventure and journey for the term!